The 2016 NBA Draft took place in Brooklyn, N.Y. June 23. Sixty players heard their names called during the nearly four-hour event, from the Sixers’ No. 1 selection, Ben Simmons, to the final selection, Tyrone Wallace.
Former Drexel men’s basketball player Damion Lee, who spent four years on campus before transferring to Louisville for the final season of his collegiate career, was not among the names called.
Later that night, Lee landed a deal with the Miami Heat to play on their Orlando Summer League team, and his dreams of an NBA career began.
Lee became the first Drexel player since Frantz Massenat to play in the Summer League; when he graduated in 2014, Massenat played for the Washington Wizards. Massenat now plays professionally in Germany.
Unsurprisingly, Lee wasted no time making a splash — the ultimate highlight from his first few days with the Heat came in the first quarter of the first game of the league.
At the end of the first quarter, Lee launched a full-court shot from about 75 feet that banked in to give the Heat a two-point lead. The NBA tweeted out a Vine of the shot, which was viewed over 500,000 times.
The next morning, the shot was the No. 1 play on SportsCenter’s Top 10.
In three games, Lee averaged 4.0 points per game, 1.3 assists per game and 1.3 rebounds per game.
From here, one would likely expect Lee to head overseas and strike a rich deal with any number of willing European teams. As Massenat showed, a fringe NBA or fringe NBA D-League player will have a shot at a lucrative career playing in Europe in some of the best leagues in the world.
Lee could also try to land an NBA D-League contract and work his way up to an NBA team’s bench by the end of the season, if possible.
Lee averaged 15.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 34.1 percent from behind the arc in his lone season with the Cardinals.
If not for the program’s recruiting scandal, Louisville would have played in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, giving Lee more time to show what he can do when the lights are the brightest. Instead, he faded from the draft’s conscious.
In the few opportunities he had to impress national crowds during the regular season, he took advantage of the stage.
He scored 23 points and adding five steals in a win over Michigan State in which he dominated a matchup with eventual first-round pick Denzel Valentine. Against a powerful Kentucky team, Lee nearly single-handedly willed the Cardinals to victory, scoring 27 points in a 75-73 loss.
When the regular season ended, Draft Express, an oft-referenced recruiting and draft analysis website, had Lee ranked among its 50 best prospects in this summer’s draft.
But by the time the NCAA tournament ended and its residual excitement died down, Lee was on the fringe of Draft Express’ draft-ability.
A few weeks before the draft, he had fallen to the website’s No. 63 prospect, just outside of where he needed to be.
As his Summer League opportunities showed, coaches and scouts may have not been as high on his future in the NBA as others were during this past winter.
In any case, Lee will represent the Drexel name well as he begins his professional basketball career.